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Oltrepò Pavese And Far Away...

This is a land that many visitors to Italy drive past without a second glance. Oltrepò Pavese translates as beyond the Po in Pavia. Oltrepò Pavese lies south of Milan, in the hills which overlook the plains of the river Po. The Po River, Italy’s largest, runs west to east across the country. These plains are a hugely productive agricultural area and in the paddy fields you can see growing the rice used in that classic Italian dish, risotto. However, this is not the reason Vinnie and I stopped by - as always, wine was on our minds.

Crossing the old and beautiful Ponte della Becca (beware - do not try this in a wide vehicle) takes you up into the hills where things are very different to the plains below; here you see vineyards everywhere and this small area of Oltrepò produces huge amounts of wine. Vinnie and I came to find two very local wines which not many Italians outside of Lombardy know about. These two wines have the most intriguing names, Buttafuoco and Sangue di Giuda.

To try these local delicacies, Vinnie and I visited the cantina of Andrea Picchioni. Andrea is a hugely welcoming man and he was happy to show us his vineyards where, on ten hectares of land, he produces a selection of wines. However, we were here for the local gems. Buttafuoco roughly translates as spitfire and there are different legends concerning the origins of the name. Andrea will tell you that the name comes from a vineyard which clings to a hillside just outside Canneto Pavese, the heart of Buttafuoco production. This vineyard is shaped like a Greek theatre and faces south so during the summer months it becomes unbearably hot.

Andrea produces two versions of this special wine made from Barbera, Croatina, and Vespolina grapes, harvested by hand from vines up to forty years old. The first is called Solinghino and is matured for twelve months in cement vats before being bottled. The wine is a bright ruby red colour and on the nose there is cherry and other red fruits. Andrea suggests pairing it with salami, lasagna or white meats. The second is called Bricco Riva Bianca and weighs in at a hefty 14% by volume. This wine has spent two years maturing in the huge oak barrels that Italians call botti, made from Slovenian oak. These barrels impart a more subtle flavour than the French barrique and tonneau. The result is a full-bodied delight with a dark ruby colour, rich with the flavours of cherry and plum and a long finish. This wine needs strong flavours to achieve a satisfactory balance, so try it with red meat or game in stews or roasts. It also goes well with salami and medium mature cheeses.

The second local delight is Sangue di Giuda or the Blood of Judas. Andrea could not tell us the origin of the name; he says it is lost in the mists of time but the wine is made from the same blend as Buttafuoco. The fermentation is halted before all the surgars have been converted to alcohol and the result is a slightly sparkling red wine. For those who are accustomed to sparkling white wines, pouring a glass of this produces a red foam on the surface which makes it almost appear to be boiling. Perhaps the blood is boiling at the treachery of Judas - who knows? Obviously lighter - only 7% - than its fully-fermented brethren but with a refreshing taste, try it with fruit tarts and pastries.

After a strenuous afternoon’s tasting the evening we needed a good meal and so we chose the nearby Ristorante Colombi. Run by Federico and his wife Cristina - it was a chance to enjoy a long Italian dinner. We started, as always, with an antipasti. For people unfamiliar with Italian menus this is something that is very easy to overlook. That would be a grievous mistake for it can be the most interesting part of the meal and serves to whet the appetite. I selected a plate of mixed salami with gnocco fritto and pickled vegetables - what a delight. When choosing the accompanying wine, I chose another of Andrea’s wines, in this case a Bonarda he calls Ipazia. Made from 100% Croatina grapes this is a slightly sparkling red that went well with our dinner. Two further courses, a risotto and a dolce, left us content - and feeling rather full - with our day’s research. More about this vineyard

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